More (so much more!) from TESOL ’09

dscn00231By the staff at A.C.E. at MSU — Each instructor for the A.C.E. Language Institute at MSU experienced a lot at this year’s convention. Here is their extensive team coverage of TESOL 2009. We hope you will find it both an interesting read as well as great resource. (There is also a small gallery with more photos at the end of the post.)

Endsley Barrett:

Julie Hanks and Susanne Rizzo from the University of Macau presented some great strategies for teaching vocabulary at each stage of language acquisition (noticing, recognition and production). One of the plans that they demonstrated was having students create word tables so that they would notice the patterns in various parts of speech and be able to apply it to future vocabulary. Another great idea was one in which a student draws a word from a word pile and creates a sentence using it. The next student draws a new word and continues the story with their new word and a new sentence. This story can be used for review by removing all the vocabulary words to create a gap activity. Both presenters stressed the importance of variation in vocabulary activities and presented many great ideas to aid in reaching the goal of variation.

Ellen Lipp from CSU Fresno gave an excellent lecture called “Integrates Skills Course Design for Academic Language Development.” She advocated that an integrated skills course “creates an authentic and engaging learning environment,” and after seeing her presentation I couldn’t agree more.

She incorporated reading, writing, listening, speaking and grammar in her class. She chose an overarching theme–in this case driving and car accidents–and the students had to read various chosen materials, write a short synopsis of what they think the problem is, then work in a group to write a synopsis they all agree on, and finally present their material in the context of a public hearing (each group assumes a particular role). In presenting their side of the issue they need to bring in evidence from the reading to support their case.

The next step in the activity is to (as a group) brainstorm solutions. During this process Ellen walks around the classroom and plays “Devil’s advocate,” which encourages the students to use critical thinking instead of just transferring the information from the reading. Post discussion, the students write the first draft of their essay on the topic.

All the major reading and writing is done outside of class and grammar points are embedded in the lessons. A project of this sort takes five weeks in a semester class that meets twice a week for 75 minutes each time.

“Integrating the IEP Curriculum and the Local Community” was a presentation discussing how to get your students out of the classroom and into the community to learn English. The speakers presented some good strategies for preparing community involvement activities and then good activities, as well.

Shannon Mahoney:

I focused on sessions concerning pronunciation, writing, and vocabulary development.

PRONUNCIATION- Easily this was the most useful of all the sessions I attended. The speaker emphasized that while phoneme pronunciation is important, really it is intonation, emphasis, and rhythm that determine the understandability of an ESL speaker. Many students pay little if any attention to the accented syllable of a word because they fail to see how significant it is. The speaker included some example activities to work on rhythm.

One example given was the parallel rhythm of words and phrases such as “engineer” – “He was here” or “Overthrow” – “in a row”. The speaker also mentioned that it helps to coordinate movement with accented syllables such that students might clap as they say “-neer”, “here”, “throw”, or “row”.

Another useful activity focused on reducing nonstressed words such that a phrase such as “BROAD VIEW” (two beats) could be changed to “BROAD reVIEW” or BROADer reVIEW”, yet still only require two beats.
I attended another seminar that focused on producing sounds which ESL students generally find troubling. Some mentioned activities were providing a lollipop for students to hold in front of their mouths as they attempted to pronounce the “th” sound. Others focused on enunciating final –s or –ed sounds correctly by repetition, clapping when the word receives an extra syllable, and using appropriate assessment techniques.

Paul Mart:

This being my first TESOL conference, I had no idea what to expect and tried to keep my mind “as an empty bucket” to be filled. I attended a total of 7 discussion/paper sessions, four of which were quite worthwhile.

The first was a Power Point presentation given on fossilization of errors in speaking and writing. The lecturer teaches at Boston University, and her classes are mostly intermediate to advanced English learners. She first off made the distinction between “plateauing” and single major fossilized issues, on which she had decided to hone in. She used ideas found in the textbook series “Fun With Grammar”. The students were assigned a very brief, 3-question survey which was to be given to native speakers of English. The survey was made from a list of 5 grammar issues; then, the instructor made up idiomatic and unidiomatic sentences for the survey. Native speakers were asked to choose the “natural choice”, assuming a neutral (not formal, not informal) setting. The students approached potential participants, gave the survey, and presented the results. After viewing the results, by and large the students self-corrected their errors. Here is the survey:

1. We don’t usually walk to work in the U.S. (native speaker choice)
We don’t usually walk to work in my country.
2. I went to a movie with my classmates.
I went to a movie with some people from class. (native speaker choice)
3. I’m not in high school. I’m in college. (native speaker choice)
I’m not in high school. I go to university.

The second presentation I enjoyed was about using video recordings to improve business presentations at Kiev-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine. Mohyla Academy is Ukraine’s most prestigious institution of higher learning, according to the presenter. It was founded in 1655, and continues today as a leader in Liberal Arts institutions. Our presenter displayed two versions of the same student presentation. The second was obviously stronger and more noteworthy than the first, and this was attributed to recordings and analysis done by the instructor and fellow students. This specific class of business students used these recordings to monitor their pronunciation, gestures, wait time, stance and posture. The featured student’s expressiveness and articulation became noticeably better. Our presenter stated that confident speakers can become successful executives. She also left us to ponder this: Do traditional learning styles clash with more modern methods?

The next presenter was from Alexandria, Virginia. She focused on building English language learners’ academic vocabulary. I didn’t realize until it was too late (I also didn’t want to give up my seat in a packed room) that this was more for K-12 education than for higher ed. However, I found that the techniques and ideas she suggested are very applicable, especially to our own lower English ability students. She suggested many factors to be considered in a school environment: curriculum, feedback, involvement, environment, professionalism, strategies, management, home, background knowledge, and motivation. Then, regarding vocabulary learning, retention, and usage: students must encounter the word(s) more than once in context; they need to associate an image with a word; it also helps to compare, classify, analogize and create metaphors with target vocabulary. It also helps to diagram, possibly with a bubble or Venn diagram, how 2 vocabulary items are alike and not alike. Finally, focused pairs of students can compare, describe, explain and identify words from a list together. The presenter showed how her students had drawn their own images to associate with certain English words. The teachers had no input about the images; these need to be solely student-generated, as the association created is also solely student-generated. Overall, I found this presentation very helpful, as it generated many ideas for me.

Finally, the presentation which I thought was my favorite from what I saw at the conference, was called “i-Caught, YouTube, We All Benefit”. Two instructors from Roosevelt University in Chicago created this project. Basically, ESL students had to design, stage and shoot short films on a given topic, then give impromptu speeches about them. The instructors stated successes therein (an easy project, builds confidence, shows new skills) as well as challenges (grading/evaluating, student anxiety, and curriculum variance/time). Also, the instructors themselves had to “learn on the fly” about some of the technology of web-streaming, etc. In what they called the “International Voices Competition”, students created videos based solely upon 3 words which described them or were important to them at the time. They could use live video or animation, sound or silence, but they needed to incorporate their 3 words somehow. The instructors drew up criteria for judging, set up a panel for the competition, and started a YouTube channel specifically for this project. Students became very interested and participation was very high.

All in all, I definitely benefited from attending the conference, and met several teachers from around the U.S. I will try to go as often as possible in the future.

Cassie McDonald:

Finding Student’s Academic Voice through Teacher Talk and Interactions:
This presentation was based on the way a teacher talks to a student and how they may help or hinder that student through their talking style. The speaker opened with past research that was based on the fact that when a native speaker talks to a nonnative speaker the native speaker tends to facilitate the nonnative speaker in four ways:

1) Use of interrogative style-requiring answers, therefore, sustaining conversation
2) Continuously supplying information for the nonnative speaker to help them express an idea
3) Native speakers will answer their own questions
4) Native speakers will treat topics simply and briefly, and change the subject often to accommodate the nonnative speaker

The presenter then told the audience that these accommodating moves usually hinder the nonnative speaker from finding their own voice. She instructed us that it is important not to train nonnative speakers to simply answer in 1-2 word utterances. It was suggested that when a native speaker is having a conversation with a nonnative speaker that instead of facilitating the conversation, they should ask questions like:

1) What do you mean by that?
2) Tell me more?
3) Tell me what you are thinking.

Using (Haptic-based) Intonation for Focus on (Grammatical) Form:
This presentation was very interesting and complicated. The focus was on teaching intonation through movement and touch. While the presenter was speaking he looked almost like a conductor. There was a very distinct method used for this session. It was all based on something called tacchinami, which means touch. One would touch hands on a stressed syllable of a word. The direction and touch of one’s hands depends on the intonation of what is being said. When doing tacchiniami one’s hands move as the voice would move, it is all based on volume, length, pitch and syllables.
I have a chart that is based on the session that I would be glad to share with anyone that might be interested.

Matt Rabinsky:

The first really practical demonstration I attended was on teaching pronunciation. The presenter was a woman with 30 years of ESL teaching experience and every year of it showed in her presentation. One practical tip she gave was to give the students a large rubber band to demonstrate word stress. Students repeat a word several times, stretching the band on the correct syllable. This is especially useful and practical because the teacher can see where the student is giving stress, and the student can see where the teacher is giving the stress as he/she demonstrates the proper pronunciation. This also works well because some students learn better by using their bodies. “What the body remembers the brain remembers” was a good quote given by the presenter. A second practical tip was to use a kazoo. Each student is given a kazoo along with some basic instruction for using it. Then the teacher writes several sentences on the board that can have different meaning depending on where the sentence stress lies. For example: I said I wanted a cup of coffee. (Not a mug?) Or: I said I wanted a cup of coffee. (Not tea?) The teacher can hum the sentence he/she is thinking of and the students will tell the teacher which one it was. Both of these activities are important because supersegmentals are more important than segmentals in regards to understanding someone’s pronunciation.

The second presentation I’d like to summarize was a presentation on using blogs and a website/application called Voice Thread. Very basically, a teacher can easily set up a web page and post a photo, video, or a passage from a book and have students comment on it using either a written comment or a spoken comment. Either way, students can ask questions to each other, answer questions from the teacher, or anything else the teacher can come up with. This is important because some students don’t feel totally comfortable commenting or criticizing in front of a class full of people. The process is quite easy (even for non-techies like me). To see an excellent slide show that explains how to set everything up, go to and click on “Teaching Resources & Projects” To see examples of these Voice Threads, go to or

Karen Savage:

Attending and participating in the Denver TESOL Conference was both an exhilarating and exhausting experience. Sorting through and selecting from the seemingly limitless possibilities of sessions to attend was the first challenge to be met. It truly was “So many choices and so little time.” Once the decision was made, getting into the room and then scoring a usually scarce handout were the next steps. That accomplished, it was time to sit back, listen, and sometimes even participate.

“Critical Thinking Is to DIE: Lessons for Pre-Academic Students,” was presented by three IEP instructors from Green River Community College. Their student population is overwhelmingly Asian, and described as “struggling with the demands of critical thinking in Western education.” Instructors were frustrated attempting to teach critical thinking to non-Western thinking students, and finally sought help from a university professor who shared the DIE method with them. Quite simply, D is describe, I is interpret or make sense of something, and E is evaluate. For the greater part of the session, the presenters gave specific examples of how to teach any level student this concept, and how to employ it in reading, writing, and listening and speaking. Their method has almost eliminated the struggling, and created independent critical thinkers. I’m looking forward to receiving a copy of their handout.

Next most prominent in my memory is the “Helping Students Speak so They Can be Understood” pronunciation session. The presenter, another IEP instructor, relies on short (one minute or less) student digital recordings for diagnostic and self-correcting purposes. She stressed providing students with focused and repetitive listening and speaking activities. Students often have a variety of different problems, but she believes focusing only three at a time is the most productive approach. Her examples are clearly described, and will be easy to use once our digital recording problems are solved. Luckily, she provided a wealth of information about digital recording, and numerous sources of material for students.

Compared to TESOL two years ago, many more sessions included digital audio and visual technology. I believe we are going to have to join rather than ignore this revolution. TESOL is a great place to explore and learn about our areas of instruction, students, and ways to utilize popular technology in our classrooms.

Ann Sorenson:

The TESOL Convention, in Denver, this year was the first ESL convention I’ve had the opportunity to attend. It was well worth it! I went to seven different ‘talks’ and got some great ideas to put into practice in my classroom.

Helping Students Speak so They Can be Understood, was the one of the most helpful workshops I attended. Teaching speaking and pronunciation using student audio recording has proven very successful. Students are recorded and able to listen to themselves and self-correct. This is a huge step! When students are able to self-correct this also means they have or are beginning to have a subconscious awareness.

First, students’ problems are diagnosed when teachers listen to individual student recordings, using This doesn’t have to be a long blurb. Maybe only 2 minutes or so. Then teachers give each student written corrections using clear correction symbols. Next, give the student only 2 or 3 problems to work on. The student can then continue to listen to himself while looking at written corrections, focusing on only a few problems and thereby self-correct. The instructor can then easily continue to recheck student progress, multiple times, quickly. When the student can say the ‘verse’ perfectly, he then moves on to another ‘verse’ focused on his individual needs.

While some things we do seem redundant and thus boring, we know that massive repetition is the only way auditory nerve connections can become stronger, longer lasting, more complex, and eventually habituated in long term, long lasting memory. can be used at home or in a computer lab. Students can record themselves and send an email file as an attachment. I think it would be nice to have access to the computer lab for these purposes. It would simplify and make working with pronunciation needs efficient and effective.

Thank you for giving all of us the opportunity to go to the convention!!

Sue Zimmerman:

The Dilemma of Plagiarism: Plagiarism plagues language teachers from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to A.C.E. in Bozeman. Attending three informative sessions on this topic gave me a broader understanding of why students plagiarize and how we, as teachers, can help them to avoid this academic no-no in the universities in the U.S. All three presenters encouraged teaching paraphrasing regularly, if not daily, beginning in level 2.

In some cultures, knowledge does not belong to a single person; it is shared by the society. Sometimes copying is considered imitation which shows a respect for authority. One study showed that 85% of students plagiarized on the first essay which involved source-based writing. Even when they understand the concept, most did not consider it a serious offense. Teachers must first understand this issue of plagiarism for what it is and then use strategies to help students learn to paraphrase.

One strategy known as patchwriting helps novice writers deal with
difficult texts. The first step is to have students substitute synonyms for certain words in the original source. Synonym substitution, however, is only the first step in paraphrasing, and often is where students stop in the process. We need to teach students to go beyond synonym substitution and help them alter the grammatical structure of the sentence and link the sentences in a paragraph in a different format from the original. I tried this yesterday in class with some success.

Another strategy involves looking not only at the syntactical level of a sentence, but also at the discourse level. This is a strategy of text manipulation which I don’t fully understand yet, but involves “recasting the text” of the original. I need to find out more about this.

A third help with plagiarism can be the computer program Turnitin
which identifies sources from which students have plagiarized.
This is a very expensive program which would have to be purchased
at the university level in conjunction with Blackboard.

Thanks to the following:
Lila Savova, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Kim Hardiman Embry Riddle
Angela Yi-ping Hsu, National Tsing Hua Univ., Taiwan

One Comment on “More (so much more!) from TESOL ’09

  1. Pingback: Coming Soon: TESOL 2010 « ACEBook – Associates in Cultural Exchange Blog

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